Review: Apolo Ohno and Zero Regrets

“Do you know him from dancing or from skating?” the gentleman asked as Sue and I entered the book store on a cold Saturday night.

“Skating,” we replied in unison. That promptly put a pamphlet in our hand from the Buffalo Speedskating Club. (And I have to admit, I didn’t know we had a speedskating club in Buffalo.)

Ah, but short track speedskating is only part of the story of Apolo Ohno. While he changed the sport and made history by winning eight Winter Olympic medals over three Olympiads, his participation in the ABC reality show Dancing With The Stars propelled him to pop culture celebrity.

On Saturday, Ohno was in Buffalo for a book signing of his latest work — Zero Regrets: Be Greater Than Yesterday. Sue and I stood in line for an autograph and to say hello, although getting out “thank you” was about all the time we were allotted in the assembly-line process to get as many people through the line as possible.

And while autobiographies of sports stars don’t always make the best literature, Zero Regrets was well-written, informative, inspirational and an enjoyable read.

As promised by the title, zero regrets is the continuous theme of the book. Ohno speaks passionately about taking advantage of opportunities — something instilled in him by his father.

Perhaps the thing which is most striking is Ohno’s attitude toward winning. For all his short track success, there are moments when many observes would assume disappointment — a third place finish instead of a gold or a disqualification in a heat. But Ohno sees that as part of the unpredictability of his sport. The fastest guy doesn’t always win. Seriously. It’s about strategy and strength and speed and timing and luck. He writes:

Real victory is arriving at the finish line with no regrets. You go all out. And then you accept the consequences.

Other personal favorites from the book:

Be ready for anything. Never, ever take a race for granted until you’re over the line. Finish. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a daze. It doesn’t matter how quick everything is happening all around you, no matter how crazed. What happens is up to you. Finish.

A life marked by regret was worse, way worse, than trying your best and maybe coming up short.

I never think about the end. It’s not about that. You get sidetracked if and when you start worrying about it. If you’re always thinking about winning and crossing the line first, you’re distracted from the actual process.

When society speaks of life lessons in sports, we tend to focus on things like goal-setting and teamwork and (occasionally) sportsmanship. We debate how much emphasis to put on winning, noting that competition is important but so too is participation.

What Ohno speaks to is perhaps one of the best ways to combine the sentiments of competition and participation. It’s about preparing and training and giving your best effort, in every way. It’s about embracing the opportunities which come your way daily — regardless of how subtle or outlandish they may seem. It’s about being true to yourself and feeding your passion, even if it is something like the little-known sport of short track speedskating.

The finish line? It takes care of itself. We can strive for it, but there is caution in being ruled by it.

Our job is not be fixated on the end, but to committed to what it is we really want.

“Life will give you what you ask of it,” Ohno wrote. “My job was to ask big, loudly and consistently.”

When you do that, anything is possible, whether you’re training for an athletic event or living a full, rich and creative life.

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